News Releases

Mines students empower Native American youth to pursue higher education
Release Date Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Senior chemistry major Jacob Phipps and junior physics major Domingo Tamayo conduct chemistry experiments at schools on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian reservations in an outreach effort aimed at empowering Native American youth to pursue higher education. 

RAPID CITY, S.D. (April 1, 2014) – In the starkly beautiful grasslands of the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Indian reservations, more than 10,000 children face grim statistical categories: high school dropout, unemployed, at risk. And of the youth that graduate high school, just over one-tenth earn bachelor’s degrees. This spring break, the American Indian Science & Engineering Society (AISES) chapter at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology visited four reservation schools in an outreach effort aimed at empowering youth to pursue higher education – and radically change the trajectory of a generation.

Attending St. Francis High School, Todd County High School, Red Cloud High School and Sinte Gleska University, Jacob Phipps, a senior chemistry major of the Muscogee Nation (Creek), from Mesa, Ariz.; Domingo Tamayo, a Sicangu Lakota junior and physics major from the Rosebud Sioux tribe; and Kimberlynn Cameron, a geological engineering senior of the Standing Rock Lakota tribe, conducted hands-on experiments with local students and presented on their internships and research.

Phipps focused on chemistry – and its applications.

“The chemistry experiments I did with them included elephant’s toothpaste, iodine clock reaction and a hydrophilic polymer that absorbed 300 times its weight. … Some of the students realized that its (the polymer’s) main use was in disposable diapers. This led to me talking about applying what they learn in the classroom to real life. I left each class with this: ‘Take something you learn this week in class and apply it at home,’” said Phipps.

Hailing from a town of more than 400,000 in the desert southwest, visiting the rural reservation was an eye-opener for Phipps – but not one without promise. “I gained knowledge of their current situations … and some of the challenges they face. I hope the students took out of it that it is possible to leave home, the reservation, and make it on our own. It is possible to get a higher education, and there are some many opportunities for us, the Native American family. ... I hope they will attempt to make an effort to look for scholarships and apply for college and pursue what they love.”

And he hopes to be back next year, doing his part to “change the numbers of Native Americans as a whole in higher education.”

AISES is a national organization whose goal is to substantially increase the representation of American Indian & Alaska Natives in science, technology, engineering and math. The Mines chapter strives to uphold this mission through professional development, educational outreach and cultural identification.

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About SDSM&T

Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,640 students from 45 states and 37 countries, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1. The average starting salary for graduates is $62,400 with a 98 percent placement rate. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sdsmt and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sdsmt.